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Does Customer Service Influence Customer Service Ratings?

Posted on : 23-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service

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This is probably way too deep of a post leading into the holidays, but it is on my mind, so here it goes.  I have been thinking about my own perceptions of service at various companies, and it has caused me to wonder what causes me to think that way and do others with these similar thoughts cause ratings to be high or low for other organizations?

This time of year is filled with shopping, and I have always had an interest in the Customer experience for retailers.  One of the places I like to shop is Target.  I like the assortment of products and the atmosphere.  If someone were to ask me I would rate Target service on the higher end.  But as I think about the Target experience, I do not like their restrictive return policies and I have never had a “wow” type of experience.  I compare this to Walmart, which I do not shop at as much.  I have never had a problem, I like the prices I have received (I have even saved over Target), yet I would rate them lower than Target.  Why would that be?  The experience is not much different and I would save money.

The same holds true when I compare Lowes to Home Depot.  Both have similar policies, I do prefer Lowes store layout and the brightness of the stores, but I have found I have had to wait longer at Lowes, because at Home Depot I can do self checkout which I like.  I have never had trouble with Home Depot, but I have with Lowes (which was fairly handled but should not have happened).  Yet with all of this I would rate Lowes higher than I would Home Depot.

Costco is typically seen as a leader in service in the club warehouse space, and it is a place I love to shop.  It is funny, but a few years ago we switched to BJ’s due to a membership offer we received.  Within a few weeks we shifted back to Costco because we missed the product assortment and the “wow” items they have in the store.  I will say Costco is great with returns, but I have seen the same handling at Sam’s and BJ’s.  I find the lines longer at Costco, which can be annoying.  I also have to show my receipt as I am leaving, which is another annoyance to me.  It would not be as much of an annoyance if they actually reviewed what I purchased by I find they just put a line on the receipt and I walk out the door.  I remember when I first joined Costco they had a sign that said “Why do we check the receipt.”  The answer was to ensure you received everything you paid for.  I would laugh every time I saw it, but they eventually took it down.  I understand the benefit of checking at the door, which is to reduce and discourage theft, which ultimately helps keep costs low.  If I were asked which store had the best service I would say Costco, yet is it really that much different?

So what does influence Customer Service ratings?  I think it is a multitude of things, and it varies by industry and even company.  Here are a few thoughts:

Brand Perception – This is a huge influencer in many Customer Service surveys.  Apple is a great example.  They are always highest ranked in service, and I would rate them high too.  Yet I have had many computers and the only time I ever had to call the manufacturer was for the first computer I purchased.  It was an IBM and they were great but they could not help fix it, so I had to return it to the store.  I have had many manufacturers, including Sony, HP, Toshiba, Apple and IBM.  I would rate Apple number 1, yet for really no reason from a Customer Service viewpoint.

Long Memories – As consumers we do have long memories and at times this will influence how we rate a company.  Using the computers listed above, I would rate HP and Toshiba very low, even though I have not had recent interactions.  Toshiba simply because I owned 2 laptops and both went right after the warranty expired (one was a 1 year warranty and the other was a 3 year extended warranty).  HP I have had a great experiences with my recent netbook and as well as the many HP printers I have owned, yet I would go back to trouble with a Compaq Pocket PC device that had a screen broken.  After numerous calls, I had to go to the executive office, and the person helped rectify but they were very rude in the process.

Customer Passions – Certain products create passion within the Customer base.  Apple can be a good example, but you can look at other products, such as TV, Internet or Cell Phone.  All of which we have learned that it would be difficult to live without.  What is interesting is this can create very divergent view based on the brand or the product.  TV and internet service providers typically rank very low is satisfaction, but I believe this is because we love to watch TV and we feel the need to be connected to the internet at all times.  In some cases we feel we do not have a choice and the costs keep going up.  Sometimes when people find an alternative there is excitement and they switch for that reason.  They then rank the others higher.  For me, I have had every provider across the board over the past 10 years, and with each I had good experiences, and some very bad ones.  In fact one popular highly ranked provider, I had some very bad experiences, and so have many others I know, yet they still rank high.  I think it is due to the passion for the product offering, and the fact that people feel they have a choice.  I also believe in many cases it is more of Customers trying to demand companies do better.  As an example, I have and love the iPhone.  I have never had a poor experience with AT&T, yet people sometime rank them lower in service.  A lot has been made recently about their network and maps.  This is a 2 sided issue that I do not want to get in the middle of, but I have never really had trouble. In fact I think the one time I did it was more associated with the operating system then the network.  It was later fixed with an update.  I do think people simply want AT&T to do better and are cheering them on to do just that.  I think the same can be said about the company I work for, and we are trying to do that.

Marketing – We like to think that marketing does not have an influence on us, but in many cases it does.  Verizon as an example spends something close to $3 billion a year to share their message.  As we saw with the map example, it has been highly effective.  We have also seen it with other products they have, yet if you dig into some of the experiences you will find just as negative example as any of their competitors, and in many cases more.  Of course some will say I am bias here, but I have had both good and bad experiences with this company, like so many others.  I would have their wireless service and AT&T through work.  I have not had a bad experience with either, but I would rank Verizon higher, is that due to their marketing efforts?  Another interesting example from a marketing side is Southwest airlines.  They have ranked high in Customer Service rankings, and I know many people that rave about their experience.  Is it really that much different?  I have found a few cool employees but I have had other flights where they were not that great.  For me I tend to rank them 4, behind Jet Blue, Air Tran (I love wifi on planes), and Continental.  Out of all each of these the only ones I have would say were influenced by actual Customer Service interactions are Jet Blue and Continental, but even with both of them, I loved live TV on the planes.

Price – This is part of the equation but probably not as large as we think.  Just using a few examples from above, my Walmart example it was not.  Apple is many times the highest price, yet people love them.

Company Culture and Employees – I think this is a very important aspect that is often overlooked.  I mentioned Southwest above, they have personalized their brand in many advertisement and the way they interact.  This culture has a high influence on Customer Service scores.  It is hard for me to rate a company low after I just got to know one of their employees.  The best example of this is of course Zappos and how open they are in sharing the spirit of their employees.  This personalization by the brand is extremely influential.  The same holds true on the other end of the spectrum.  General Electric is a company that has many influences on our lives.  I am not sure how there Customer Service ratings would be, but I would bet there is an influence in the rating due to the cold nature Jack Welch, former CEO, sometimes created or the amount of layoffs they have had in the past.  I like the company a lot as an investor and I think Jeff Immelt has tried to change some of those perception, but that is something that has impacted many families and will influence the brand for years, even though they do bring “Good things to life!”

In the spirit of this post, I would like to share this Comcast Customer Guarantee ad.  The reason is how it fits into the conversation.  All of the Comcast people you see in this ad are actual employees who were recognized for providing outstanding service.

What are some other influencers to Customer Service ratings?  What do companies need to do to win over the hearts and minds of Customers?  This will lead to an upcoming post on the Customer joining the C-Suite.

I hope everyone is have a great holiday season!

Twitter is not for everyone!

Posted on : 19-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media

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There has always been a lot of conversation about  Comcast and Twitter, including varying opinions of what we do right and what some perceive as wrong.  While I was on vacation there was a blog post by Ari Herzog comparing Comcast social media efforts with Walmart, LA Times and Whole Foods.   Overall it was a fair comparison, although for some reason no one realizes how active my team is within blogs, Facebook, forums, You Tube, and other social spaces.  That is a post for another day!  One of the comments is something I am very passionate about and I thought is would be helpful to share my thoughts here for some discussion.  At the end of the case study on Comcast it states “good luck finding Twitter link or icon” on Comcast.com.  Fair point and true, but lets get into why.

Not only has this discussion happened within social media, we have the discussion at work all the time.  There are many who have suggested we add a Twitter link as another method to contact us.  Believe it or not, I am the one that is resistant to this.  Let’s start with our goal within social media: “To meet Customer’s where they already are, listen and help when we can.”  I have always been passionate that the key to social media for businesses is listening first.  An area that I think companies can continually work on.

Many companies have used Twitter and other social media spaces very successfully to market products.  When you are doing this, placing a link on your website can work well.  Dell is the perfect example of this:

We have never sought to publicize our efforts or seek recognition for listening and helping, but needless to say it has happened.  I still find a lot of that discussion to be weird, because all we have ever done is what I refer to as Customer Service 101.  One of the things I realized is that publicity causes is many people that have never been on Twitter stop by.  I love Twitter, and I am excited when new people find it, but it is not always the right experience if you do not know how to use it.  One story occurred after I appeared on NPR Marketplace.  A woman needed assistance and went to Twitter for help.  It was her first time to Twitter.  She signed up and tweeted a few times.  She then when back to the the show and stated she never heard from Comcast.  We did reply to each of her tweets, but, as it turns out, she did not know to go to the “replies” tab to see responses.  This did not meet her expectations or ours, but that is what can happen when someone goes to a new space and does not fully understand how it works.  This takes me back to our overall goal, “Meet Customer’s where they already are, listen and help when we can.”  I do not see a need to generate business for Twitter but make it one of many places we listen.

Of course this would lead to the argument that we are not providing the same efforts to Customers not in social media.  Well, that is not true either.  Even before we were active in social media, my team developed a process for Customers to share feedback with Rick Germano, Senior VP of Customer Service for Comcast.  This is another process I have managed over the past few years.  This is prominently displayed on our website, and all feedback is reviewed and we assist Customers in the same manner.  We listen to every piece of feedback they provide, and help when we can.  I think in this age of Customer Service, providing as many means for Customers to share feedback is extremely important.  We also provide links throughout our website to our help forums, which are also managed by my team.  This does not mean we do not share links to our efforts on Twitter, but we do so in places where we find Customers that are already on Twitter tend to be, such as Comcast Voices blog.

I love the evolution Twitter has brought to companies, especially related to Customer Service and support.  I am proud to have played a small part, but this will continually evolve and time will create new best practices that all companies can share to create the best possible experience for Customers and prospective Customers.  The moral of this story is Twitter is great for those that fully understand it and like to be in the space.  Places like Facebook are better for others, and some individuals will prefer not to be a part of any of these social spaces, and there is nothing wrong with that.

You Heard it Before from Me But This is in Video Form

Posted on : 30-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media

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The Story of ComcastCares

Posted on : 29-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media

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After seeing the USA Today story on Friday, I was shocked to be referenced as “something of a legend.”  I see everything I have done as really being Customer Service 101.

I started with Comcast in September, 2007 as a manager of Customer Service in Philadelphia.  On my fourth day with the company we were asked to locate a blogger and reach out to them to assist with a problem.  We called and assisted the Customer.  From that day forward, on occasion, we would reach out to bloggers when we had time.  Each and every time we did that the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  In December I was asked why we did not write on blogs.  I did not realize we could (my background was in financial services and we were not allowed to write on the web regarding work).  This provided us the opportunity to reach out to many bloggers that were typically anonymous.  Reaction remained overwhelmingly positive.  In February, I became the manager of Digital Care (I later became Director of Digital Care), a new role to look at ways we can meet Customer where they already are.  At that time we started to review ways we can assist Customers in this digital world.  We outlined our goals, which were to listen to our Customer and help when we can.  It is very simplistic, but that remains the same goals we work from today.  Early on we learned from others regarding the space (my only experience in social media was a website for our daughter, and, later, our family website ).  We learned quickly that each space is its own community, and you have to treat it as such.  Forums, for example, are peers helping peers, and you do not want to take away from that.  Based on this, we typically private message within forums.  We were introduced to Twitter by a VP of our southwest region, Scott Westerman.  Like other spaces we watched for a long time, reaching out on occasion via phone.  At one point we reached out to Michael Arrington.  In fact it is a day that stands out for me.  I was procrastinating putting in ceiling fans and I was reviewing emails instead.  I was also reviewing RSS feeds that I had set up, including the one for Twitter.  I noticed Michael’s post, and I called him on the phone.  The next day he posted “Comcast, Twitter and the Chicken, Trust me I have a Point.  The neat part about that post was the first few comments were they reached out to you because you are Michael Arrington.  That was simply not true, we reached out because I saw it.  But other people started posting and telling Michael, “They reached out to me, and I am nobody.  That to me is what it is all about, helping anyone in need.

Anyway, that was the first day I actually tweeted.  My original intent behind ComcastCares, was this ID would be used by all members of my team as I learned how to engage in this space.  My original avatar was the Comcast logo and not my picture.  Well after Michael blogs about you, many follow.  Every post offered different types of feedback.  I read every one, and when possible, incorporated the feedback.  I realized the space was personal, and people wanted to interact with other individuals.  It was then I added my name and later my picture.  It is also why now each of my team members has their own ID.  They also decide background and avatar.  All of my tweets, 31,500 and 15,000 direct messages were done by me.  One of the more memorable blog posts discussed me using the word ‘perception and how it was not typically used.  At first I laughed, because I have always used that word, in writing and speaking to people.  What the post really was telling me to do was loosen up a bit.  So I did.  I also learned very quickly that when you are reaching out to someone, do not try to interfere in any way.  So instead of just providing an answer, we may open the conversation with “Can I help?  If they want assistance, they will respond.  I did learn to tweet about other things and loosen up a lot, but you still need to be careful.  I remember during the first Presidential debate I was following much of the discussion via Twitter search.  I really wanted to get involved in the conversation, but I know politics and religion can be difficult when you represent a company.  During that debate Jim Lehrer tried to control both candidates.  Not thinking it was political, I tweeted “Jim Lehrer for President.  I did not realize that some people view him leaning one way or the other, but responses I received made that clear.  So much for being too personal!  The fact is we are writing the book each day as we learn more and more through every social space.  I always enjoy learning and I love when I have the opportunity to learn even more.

One of the best learnings in this space was not so much the interaction, but the valuable feedback and the speed of information.  I now have so many people watching Twitter search, because it usually provides information even before calls come in.  We are then able to react to it and provide Customers the best information.

So that is enough of this after school special!

Time for Reflection

Posted on : 02-05-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service

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The past few days I have taken a true vacation from work and it feels good!  Not that I do not miss my team or being engaged, but we all do need a rest at times.  Since we began the digital care initiative at Comcast I have worked 7 days a week and all hours of each day.  But now we are at a time where this effort, and the ability of my team is now shining.  I am so proud of each of them.  Through these efforts we have been in numerous media publications, such as:

NY Time – Griping Online? Comcast Hears and Talks Back

ABC News – Still on Hold? Twitter Can Rescue You From Customer Service Line Waits

Business Week – Comcast’s Twitter Man

I realized a few weeks ago that we have really changed the entire Customer Service industry.  It is amazing.  I have received emails and had calls with many companies as they work to replicate what we have done.  But what is it we really accomplished?  Based on feedback from our followers on Twitter we have really made Customer Service more personal again.  Customer Service started to shift to a “self service” model in the `1990′s.  This was great for companies to reduce costs but it did take away from the personal connection that happened when you knew the person you were meeting with, or the personal conversation on the phone.  Around the same time companies shifted to measuring things like handle time, schedule adherence and other numbers that did not reflect the intent of service.

Today best in class companies are measuring things like Customer Satisfaction and first contact resolution.  This is what service is about.  Handle time is good for broader measurement for planning purposes but it is not appropriate at the agent level.  It brings the wrong focus by the agent.

What else have we learned?  Customers, just like most Customer Service agents, are craving real time, unedited information.  If something is wrong they really want to know what it is, what is being done and when it will be back.  We are working to create that environment at Comcast.

A year ago I was presenting to many people from our communications team.  I made the mistake to say that part of the success was that I was not one of them.  But really in this new world order, marketing, public relations and Customer Service are really becoming one.  It is all about talking with, but not at, Customers.  So yes, I admit, I was wrong (but please do not tell my wife!).  This has been a learning process that you have to learn from every interaction, whether it is to many or more one on one.

We have done so much in a short period of time, but I can not help but think what is next?  At Comcast Rick Germano and his team have been working very hard to improve the Customer experience.  The senior leadership staff revamped the corporate credo to ensure everyone was working on the goal of creating the right experience.  It is not something that will happen overnight, but will happen.  I am proud of what we accomplished up until now but I look forward to achieving all our goals.

But beyond Comcast, how can we further improve the Customer Service industry?  What are the next big tasks to tackle? Where do you see Customer Service industry going?

Now it is time to get ready to go to @ComcastBill‘s wedding!

Frank, Where Are You?

Posted on : 20-03-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Comcast, Personal

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This has been a fun filled week for me on a number of fronts. The week started with the usual fun from Lily (see prior post “So is it Time to be Frank” for prior antics). On Sunday I had to clean the bathroom, something I have been procrastinating on for a long time. I finally got to work on it. Little did I know but so did my dear Lily. While I was taking a break for a couple minutes, Lily woke up from her nap and decided she wanted to help out. She went into the bathroom and poured a whole bottle of bleach cleaner in the tub. We are still trying to figure out how she opened it (had a child proof cap on it at the time). So when I ended the break I went upstairs. I went to get one of the bottles of cleaner, but realized the bottle was empty. Needless to say I was confused (not too unusual for me). We had a bunch of clothes in the tub because that was not being cleaned yet and we did not get to the wash. Well I noticed the clothes were wet. As I went through the pile I started to watch the color of every item run off. After going through everything in my head, I could not figure out how this happened to the clothes. I then called Lily (having a heart attack in my mind) I asked her if she was in our room. She said yes. I then worried that she drank some so then asked a number of questions on that. It turns out she was trying to create a bubble bath in the tub. I then realized many of my favorite clothes were now the wrong color. So it was good to see Lily helping the economy as I spent a lot of money at Kohls, Walmart, and LL Bean replacing some of the lost clothes. This was the start of a good week!

On Monday I was starting in a leadership program at work. This is an intense one year program for selected people within the organization. It is really amazing to even be considered and even more amazing when you meet the others in the program. There are some really great people that earned the same recognition. This first 2 day session concentrated on changes at Comcast, meeting top leaders and becoming a community leader. In fact my first project will be leading an effort centered around our “Comcast Cares Day” on April 25th. No it is not recognition of the work of my team, but rather a community event where Comcasters, family and friends get together and do projects to improve the community in which we live. I will have more to come on this because I can really use everyone’s help in meeting the goals of my first project for this leadership program. Thank you in advance.

During the leadership program I also had the wonderful experience of meeting a few people from a charity called “City Year.” As part of the leadership program, members of the charity participate. This allows us to learn about leadership in community organization and they learn from our business experience. This organization works within schools and the community to mentor, tutor and become role models to our youth. They are really transforming themselves and the communities they serve. If you have a moment check them out.

My team really started to take the lead in places like Twitter and working to take over the efforts that we have started this year. I have to say I was never more proud of the great members of my team and their efforts to make sure our social media efforts are fully operationalized. So if you have not seen me on Twitter, I have been there, but my team has really been taking the reigns. This will allow me to concentrate on strategies and improving the overall experience for our Comcast Customers. My other team members on Twitter are @ComcastBill @ComcastGeorge and @ComcastBonnie. I also have to recognize my other team members because they have been doing the same in the areas they participate in: Sherry, Kim, Mark, Detreon, Vinisha and Steve. They helped myself and Comcast lead the way into social media for businesses, but now they are helping me become a stronger leader. This is why it all starts with people!

So that is what has been happening with me. I hope I can count on your support and help for my upcoming project for “Comcast Cares Day.”

A Rebel with a Customer Service Cause?

Posted on : 18-01-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Comcast, Customer Service

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I try to avoid talking specifically about Comcast on this blog, but today is an exception.  I avoid this because Comcast will be introducing a blog in the future and that is the appropriate forum (Mark, I know you will come across this in the your search, no need to include in our newsletter because I may be a little bias).  Yesterday I received a few Tweets regarding a Wired Magazine article “The Dark Lord of Broadband.”  In the article there were some valid criticisms that Comcast is working on, and other commentary that I would like to clarify.  I am doing this on my own and this is simply my opinion.

In the opening of the article it refers to the company as arrogant, unresponsive and overpriced.  Some may feel this way about Comcast but our goal is never to be arrogant or unresponsive.  I think our products are very valuable to most of our customers but everyone has their own opinion on pricing.  What I am very upset about is the way the reporter made it seem like these are traits of Brian Roberts. In my opinion this does not describe a man I have a lot of respect for.  Yes I have met Brian on a number of occasions.  My first meeting with Brian was via email before I even thought about working for Comcast .  What occurred was after his wife had a battle of cancer, Mr. Roberts made a very large donation to bring new, important technology to a Philadelphia area cancer center.  For those that have read this blog in the past you know this is a cause close to my heart.  I shot Mr. Roberts an email thanking him.  He responded personally and with the warmth I have seen him share in person.  It was this email that when I was considering looking at positions within Comcast became my reason to be willing.  I could tell by the warmth of the response that this leader was looking to improve the Customer experience.  Otherwise there would have never been a reply.

Comcast has always had a number of charitable initiatives from the contributions to causes in areas we serve to Comcast Cares Days (No they did not name days after me, but rather I “borrowed” the name from this great cause).  I knew of this because I too assist many charities and I have had the privilege to be part of events that were sponsored in large part by Comcast.

Since joining Comcast I have had a number of interactions with Brian.  To me he seems a little introverted (as I am) and always thinking.  He actually reminds me of another CEO that I have had a great respect for in the past:  John “Jack” Brennan former CEO of the Vanguard Group.  Both men have an intensity and thought process that is amazing to see in person.  This intensity is not arrogance but rather part of this thought process.

One of the first in person interactions I had with Brian was the day we moved into our new building.  I came in early to unpack and get settled in before the rest of my team started.  It was October, 2007 and I was one of the first to be in the building.  Brian was walking the halls by himself after the grand opening presentation.  He saw me in the office and came in to chat.  The conversation started with your typical pleasantries, but quickly evolved to service.  He was very concerned about our performance with Customer Service and he was asking my opinion.  I know he did not want service to be at the level it was at.  He was making changes to ensure that we as an organization headed into a different direction, including bringing Rick Germano to corporate to serve as the Senior VP for Customer Service operations.  But this is a change that we knew would take time before it was seen by our Customers.  What we can do now is concentrate on 1 Customer at a time.

Later that same day I had the privilege to meet Brian and his family.  During that interaction it was also easy to see that he is a family man.  Once you see people in this type of setting you begin to realized they are just like you.

In the article it does talk about many of the network management discussions that have occurred.  In my opinion it is that, more than my work, in which demonstrated the benefits of being part of the conversation.  Were mistakes made?  In my opinion, yes, but that is the nature of being human.  Even companies like Comcast are human in many ways.  Mistakes will be made.  What you have to do is learn from them and change going forward.  This too was mentioned in the story as engineers were encouraged to talk openly about the changes to network management.  That is the story here.

The final section of the article discusses my work referring to me as “Famous Frank,” a nickname from David Cohen, Executive Vice President.  In this section, in my opinion, makes me seem like a rebel within the company.  I want to be clear that I have always had the encouragement of senior Customer Service leadership and other senior leaders in the company.  At the time we started on Twitter my team and I were already active in other social media spaces and this was a natural progression.  We were referred to this space by @ComcastScott and we could see value in it.  But since there were not any books on the proper way to engage with Customers we had to learn as we go.  We started “tweeting” in April, but in February I was named manager of Digital Care (I was promoted in the summer to director).  As you can see from that progression, the company already saw value in social media and the work of my team.  We are advocates for the Customer, but it is my belief the same should be true for anyone in a Customer Service role.  I can assure you that I have shown this during every interview prior to joining the company so I know the interest of having someone like this in Customer Service is prevalent in the leadership in Philadelphia.  In my 17 months at Comcast I have always been encouraged to represent the Customer viewpoint and question things we were doing.  It helps for everyone to hear the perspective.  So I am not a rebel, unless you see everyone I interact with in the same light.

Now in closing we do have to continue to work on many things, including being more transparent, integrating systems and creating a more consistent experience for our Customers.  It is important for our Customers to see the value of our products and the service we provide.  We will work to do that.  These changes, just like the way we got to this point, will not be created by one person but the collective of all Comcasters.  We will get there!